Old/New Albums: Van Morrison’s “Blowin’ Your Mind!”

vanmorrisonAnother artist in the long list of Artists Who Couldn’t Find Fame Today, Van Morrison’s debut album Blowin’ Your Mind! features arguably his most ubiquitous song, “Brown Eyed Girl,” and falls flat most everywhere else.

All I knew about this album coming into it was that Van Morrison does not consider this a true album, as the songs were released without his consent by the album’s producer, Bert Berns, after Morrison left the Bang Records label.

I’ve got a cursory knowledge of his follow-ups, Astral Weeks and Moondance, both often included on Best Of All Time albums lists, and I knew of the song “Brown Eyed Girl,” but knowing Van Morrison hadn’t given his stamp of approval on this record made it hard to guess what it’d be like.

Let me start by knocking out the heavy hitting opener on this record, “Brown Eyed Girl.” For all intents and purposes, this song should be included in the New Great American Songbook (a concept I’m just now inventing if it doesn’t already exist, basically the Great American Songbook Vol. II, covering the ‘60s-‘00s. And yes I know Van Morrison is Irish).

Everybody knows this song. It’s been featured in movies and commercials. Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) has a Million Air certificate for songs that have reached a certain level of airplay on US and UK radio. In 2011, “Brown Eyed Girl” received its third Million Air certificate, placing it in the Top Ten Highest Played Songs. Ever. It’s received over 10 million radio plays.

That is an outrageous number of radio plays. It is a catchy song, and considering when it came out, it’s no wonder that it caught on so pervasively. But is it good? I give it a shrug and a “sure!” It’s not the worst song I’ve ever heard, but it’s certainly not the best. I assume it became such a monster hit because it spoke to the right people at the right time. It’s not a song that I associate with a magical time of my life, or with a particular old love, or anything like that. It’s just a slightly catchy calypso-style tune by a guy who does a lot more talking on his records than you’d expect.

It is important to remember that Van Morrison has basically disowned this album, because while it is technically his debut, it was released without his consent so it’s not really his vision. And that kind of skews what it is. If I lean towards disliking it, I do not actually dislike something Van Morrison put his stamp of approval upon.

And that’s not to say I dislike it. Van Morrison just doesn’t really do it for me, and so I feel kind of apathetic towards this record, like I do towards Astral Weeks and Moondance. There is a very stripped down feel to the album; not much embellishment beyond the average four piece band (drums, bass, rhythm and lead guitars) excepting the occasional piano/organ or harmonica.

Musically, and this kind of surprised me, it reminds me of Creedence Clearwater Revival. I think it’s that bare bones feel that recalls CCR. I think Van Morrison himself is a big reason I’m not in love with this record. He’s not the strongest vocalist (as I noted before, there is a distracting amount of non-melodic talking on this record), with almost no control present. I don’t trust him, like it sounds like he’s never sure if he’s actually going to hit the note he’s about to try and hit. It creates a very detached listening experience because I spend a lot of it nervous.

So if you’re looking for an album that sounds just like “Brown Eyed Girl,” you will probably be a bit disappointed, as it ends up being a bit of a black sheep tune on this album. But if you’re a fan of Van Morrison’s following albums and his voice in general, you will probably enjoy this one. It gets a “meh” from me.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. Brown Eyed Girl
  2. Spanish Rose
  3. He Ain’t Give You None

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